Draft Assessment

The U.S. Forest Service is once again inviting the public to learn about and comment on a proposed exploratory drilling project in the Patagonia Mountains that it previously tried unsuccessfully to fast-track.

The Sunnyside Exploration Drilling Project seeks to drill up to 30 exploratory holes over a seven-year period to obtain evidence of mineralization. The project area is located on USFS land approximately 3.6 miles south of Patagonia, and calls for improving 6.8 miles of existing roads and 3.7 miles of “decommissioned” roads, as well as constructing up to 0.6 miles of new roadway.

“The project proposes exploration work only, including drilling. No mining, milling or permanent facilities are being proposed,” according to a 168-page plan of operations proposed by Arizona Standard, a subsidiary of the Vancouver, Canada-based Barksdale Capital Corporation.

The plan of operations and other information can be found here, or by contacting USFS geologist Rick Goshen at richard.goshen@usda.gov or (520) 388-8341.

The Sunnyside Exploration Drilling Project was stopped in its tracks in 2015 when a federal judge ruled in favor of the Defenders of Wildlife and the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, which sued the USFS on the grounds that the agency had failed to conduct an appropriate environmental review, instead fast-tracking the Sunnyside project through a process called a “categorical exclusion.”

Opponents were concerned that the exploratory drill rigs would significantly impact the habitat of endangered and sensitive species of wildlife, including the yellow-billed cuckoo.

The Forest Service then began a more thorough environmental analysis of the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, this time to conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA).

In August 2019, it sought public comment to define the issues to be addressed during the analysis. Now, a 314-page Draft Environmental Assessment has been published, and the public can learn more about it and ask questions during two virtual public meetings:

Tuesday, March 16, from 5:30-7 p.m. The call-in number is 888-788-0099, the meeting ID is 981 2182 7981 and the passcode is 147232.

Thursday, March 18, 5:30-7 p.m. The call-in number is 888-788-0099, the meeting ID is 994 4639 5803 and the passcode is 833560.

See the online version of this story for Zoom links to the meetings.

The public also has until April 5 to submit comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment.

Comments can be submitted online, or via mail to the Sierra Vista Ranger District, c/o Rick Goshen, 4070 S. Avenida Saracino, Hereford, AZ 85615. Write “Sunnyside Exploration Drilling” in the subject line when providing electronic comments, or on the envelope when submitting comments by mail.

“Following the close of the comment period, we will analyze substantive comments for further analysis, to be addressed in the Final Environmental Assessment,” Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Schewel said in an email, adding that: “If the EA finds that the environmental impacts of the project will be significant, the process begins to develop the next level of analysis through development of an  Environmental Impact Statement.”

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